Bradford 12: Self-Defence is No Offence

Bradford 12: Self-Defence is No Offence.
Bradford 12: Self-Defence is No Offence.

Anandi Ramamurthy's history of the Bradford 12 trial, in which twelve members of the United Black Youth League were arrested on conspiracy charges for preparing to defend their community from fascists. Ramamurthy places the trial in the context of the urban riots which swept Britain in the summer of 1981 as well as detailing the solidarity campaign, their bold legal defence and eventual acquittal.

Submitted by Ed on February 21, 2019

'People say it's victory for the Bradford 12. But it's not. Its freedom for us, but victory for black people generally: the right to defend ourselves. The end result will encourage black people to not simply lie down and be murdered, but to take actions to prevent it happening.' (Saeed Hussain)

The defence of their own communities was the impetus for the formation of the majority of the Asian Youth Movements and remained a central concern to all the youth movements. The lack of police response to racist attacks and the frequent criminalisation of victims led many young people to see self-defence as the only solution. The case of the Bradford 12 was pivotal in challenging the state's attempt to criminalise communities. On 11 July 1981, while unrest exploded across the country, members of the United Black Youth League made petrol bombs that were never used, in order 'to be prepared should the need arise, to protect themselves and their community against fascists'. Three weeks later on 28 July over a dozen members were arrested and twelve young men were charged with 'Making an explosive substance with intent to endanger life and property' as well as 'conspiracy to make explosives ... for unlawful purposes'.

The Bradford 12 case and campaign acted as a national focal point against repressive policing policies and practices towards black people. It challenged both the Labour and Conservative party's representation of the police as victims of mob violence following the unrest of 1981 (Solomos 1989:107-10). It highlighted once again the police as a force of repression in their attempt to 'de-citizenise' black people by representing them as criminals and symbols of disorder (IRR 1987:vii). Its significance beyond those of other cases of self-defence such as the Newham 8 and Newham 7 lay in the example it provided of the state's direct attack on political activists with the attempt to represent them as aggressors and agitators, rather than as individuals who had been central to the struggle in defence of their communities over the previous five years (CARF 1991). It was a political trial that was to enshrine in law, the right of a community to self-defence.

The significance of the case was summed up by Tariq after their acquittal: 'The police made a mountain out of a molehill and in so doing made a monument to our beliefs: the right to self defence by a community under attack.' In current literature on the unrest of 1981, there has been very little reference to the case of the Bradford 12, because the focus has remained on a sociological analysis of the reasons for unrest rather than on the attempts by communities to organise in their defence. In assessing the significance of the case, this chapter will therefore provide a detailed account of the campaign and the trial.

The 1981 rebellions and the arrests of the Bradford 12

The events of 11 July were foreshadowed by a year of increasing antagonism between the police and black communities. The police attack on the Black and White Café in St Paul's, Bristol, in 1980 had already highlighted increased hostility, especially within the media's constructed discourse of the unrest as exclusively between black youth and the police, despite the fact that 30% of the rioters were white (Rowe 1998:6-7, Joshua et al. 1983). In January 1981 the police's lack of response to the death of 13 young black people in New Cross, London, when racists firebombed a 16-year-old's birthday party further exacerbated the situation. With poor forensic investigations, the dismissal of evidence that the fire was started by racists and the hostile treatment of young black witnesses who survived the event, compounded by the coroner's ruling of an open verdict, left black communities in no doubt that they were on their own ( SC102). 'Thirteen dead; nothing said' went the slogan to emphasise the media's apathy on 2 March 1981 when 25,000 people marched in protest on the National Black People's Day of Action.

Asian youth, including those who would later be among those arrested and charged as a part of the Bradford 12 joined the demonstration that saw confrontation with the police which was again racialised in the media as black aggression, with headlines such as 'Rampage of a Mob' in the Daily Mail (Solomos 1989:104).

The attacks on black families continued with a mother and her four children burned to death when racists petrol-bombed their home in Walthamstow on 1 July 1981. At the same time, Thatcher rolled out 'Swamp 81 a police operation, which was used to stop and search thousands of black youth on the pretext that they may be doing something illegal. Saturation policing methods, endorsed by the state's premise of black criminality, fuelled unrest in Brixton in April 1981 that was to later spread to dozens of towns and cities. The media reports of the Brixton riots were to continue the representation of the rioters as criminals and also projected a police initiated discourse that was to continue throughout 1981 of the 'outside agitator' as responsible for the unrest (Joshua et al. 1983:183).

While small outbreaks of violence took place between April and July 1981, the next major conflict between black youth and the police took place in Southall when police failed to defend the community from fascist intimidation. On 3 July 1981 fascists attempted to stage a skinhead concert at the Hambrough Tavern in Southall (two days after the death of the Khan family). Prior to the event, fascists had handed out leaflets issued by Robert Relf, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who called for right-wing groups to form a united front for a 'White Nationalist Crusade' on 18 July. They attacked an Asian shop and a woman in the Southall area (Page 1981, Silver 2001). Tensions were high and, as usual, the police arrived to defend the fascists. Asian youth gathered outside the pub, eventually breaking through police lines and burning the pub down. The unrest was again interpreted by the media as an expression of black violence and criminality: The Daily Telegraph, for example, declared '80 HURT IN RACE RIOT: Police become victims of clash in Southall' (4 July 1981). The Daily Mail's banner headline of the same day read: 'Terror in Southall'. With headlines such as these, the representation of the police as victims and the age old image of black people as violent so prevalent during the colonial period and in struggles against colonialism was reiterated again (Carruthers 1995). Even the Guardian, which highlighted the struggle as one between skinheads and Asians, presented the police as innocent victims caught in the crossfire: 'police who tried to end the confrontation came under a hail of petrol bombs and stones'.

Subsequently, the heightened levels of antagonism between police and black communities led to four nights of unrest in Liverpool following the arrest of a black motorcyclist by police. The media coverage of Liverpool continued the image of black aggression and criminality. The Daily Mail reported the event as: 'BLACK WAR ON POLICE' in a headline that covered a third of the front page. The Guardian printed images of policemen hiding behind riot shields underneath the headline: 'Hand-to-hand fighting in streets marks Liverpool's second night of rioting: Police forced to retreat' ( 13 July 1981). This image visually encapsulated the state's position of the police as victims when it was published on the cover of the Scarman Report in the following year (Scarman 1986). The involvement of white youth in rioting and unrest was hardly mentioned in any coverage. Reporting of the unrest in Liverpool and later Manchester also continued to propel the notion of the agent provocateur as responsible for the riots (Joshua et al. 1983:195). The actions of the rioters were represented as that of crazed mobs, associating them with criminal activity such as looting and blaming parents for lack of control (Rodrigues 1981, Gilroy & Lawrence 1988).

30 years later the language of the press was similar in relation to the riots of 2011, with youth being described as 'feral' and parents again being blamed for lack of control (Manchester Evening News 16 August 2011, Alleyne & Ford Rojas 2011). The widespread condemnation of the riots by ordinary people at large in 2011, with the limited discussion on the social justifications for them, is testament to the resilience of Thatcherism as a doctrine that was intent on breaking resistance from communities. The trial of the Bradford 12 was a key moment in this struggle. The police's belief in the existence of instigators was to impact on the arrest of black activists in Bradford and the charges they faced.

It was in the wake of unrest in Brixton, Southall and Liverpool that Bradford youth from the United Black Youth League as well as members of the Asian Youth Movement decided to prepare to defend themselves when rumours began to circulate that fascists were coming to Bradford. 'Hundreds of people, black and white, were out on the streets that day to meet such a threat... Shops and market-stalls were ordered to close down by the police, and shutters began to be put up' (Bradford 12 Internal Bulletin 1). These youth, many of whom had defended the streets of Manningham in 1976, were determined to do so again. In the previous month the UBYL had received a threatening letter from J. F. Neil of the 'New National Front' claiming that they would be victorious over the league and arguing that their support was growing by the week. As Saeed Hussain recalls:

we would not let fascists walk in and actually destroy a part of Bradford where Black communities lived. So we took a decision that we would actually find ways of defending the community ourselves. And that decision led to the fact that Molotov Cocktails were manufactured and they were hidden and as and when the need arose we would be prepared to use those. (Hussain 2006)

At the same time Tariq recalls,

we met with the Indian Workers Association and AYMs and lots of people and we called people to come out and patrol the areas. The IWA took the Leeds Road area where they were particularly strong... I lived in Manningham and many of our members lived in Manningham, we took that area... we were going around areas and in some places women actually ... came out of their houses and gave us food because we were walking around protecting the streets, so people in the area knew what was going on and that we could not rely on the police... And that evening on July 11 th there was a sort of minor altercation with the police. Many youth turned up in the city centre, white youths... who had not come to attack us but to support us and they were numerous. We must have been in dozens and they must have been in hundreds. (Mehmood 2006)

Some members of the Bradford 12 were first arrested on that day in July.

Nothing did happen, in a sense that the fascists didn't attack Bradford. ... And then the decision was taken that since no attack has taken place we would actually destroy the manufactured Molotov cocktails and as far as I was aware that was to be done and that was the end of the matter really. (Hussain 2006)

Rebellion on July 11 was witnessed across the country. Areas with Asian communities such as Handsworth, Luton, Woolwich, Camden, Kilburn, Hounslow and Southall all mobilised against fascists. The same weekend also saw the dispossessed working-class youth in areas as diverse as Manchester, Stoke, Blackburn, Blackpool, Fleetwood, Kettering, the Wirral, Wallasey, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham, Preston, Bolton, Hackney, Cirencester, Wood Green (London), Southampton, Halifax, Bedford, Gloucester, Derby, Birkenhead, Hull, Walthamstow, Sheffield, Coventry, Portsmouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Maidstone and even Tunbridge Wells erupt in anger with incidences of violence and looting in over 30 cities (Harman 1981). The Daily Star noted how in the ten days from 3-12 July, 2,554 arrests had been made by the police (13 July 1981). During the weekend of 11 July, 1,200 were arrested. The tensions that were felt in Bradford were widespread. It was not just young people who were discussing the 'disturbances' but academics and professionals drinking in the beer garden of the Dubrovnik Hotel in Bradford whose only conversation that evening was about the disturbances (Harrison 2011). In contrast to many other towns and cities, despite the high feelings in Bradford there was very little unrest. 'It was about three weeks later' as Saeed recalls,

that I got a phone call to say that comrades had been arrested. …by this stage it was quite big headlines in the local newspaper, the T&A [Telegraph & Argus], 'Bomb Factory Discovered in Bradford:... a number of people are assisting police with the enquiries'... the two things didn't tally straight away,... bomb factory and half a crate of Molotov cocktails! But I think one thing it did highlight... it may have not seemed a big thing from our point of view but it certainly was going to be made into a big thing. (Hussain 2006)

The sensational headlines that had filled the papers earlier in July were repeated in relation to Bradford and the police were again represented as the victims of Black criminality and violence, except this time the media narrative constructed a story of successful police action and intervention. On 5 August 1981 the Standard announced: 'Black Gang "in plot to bomb police": A plot to petrol bomb a city's police, skinheads and large stores was foiled when its three ring leaders were arrested, a court was told today.' The following day the Telegraph declared 'Eleven Asians "in plot to bomb police'". The Sheffield Star in its turn declared: 'Bomb "Factory" find in Yorks: Police smashed a huge petrol bomb "factory" in Yorkshire today ... taking charge of at least 100 bombs and holding four men for questioning' (30 July 1981), while the Northern Echo suggested, 'Petrol bombs " ready for riot"' (6 August 1981). The sensationalism of the press and the image of rampaging youth continued over the coming year with Telegraph & Argus describing 11 July, during which very little had actually taken place in Bradford, as 'Bradford's night of terror' the following May (8 May 1982). All these headlines used statements from the police and prosecution at Bradford Magistrates Court with none of the papers representing the position of the defence. It created a picture of police authority and measured control following what had been a period of media representation in which they appeared vulnerable. It was an image of successful coercive control that supported the Thatcher government's attitude to the rebellions summed up by William Whitelaw's assertion in the Civil Disturbances debate in July 1981 of the need to 'remove the scourge of criminal violence from our streets' (quoted in Solomos 1989:107).

The state's attempt to charge defendants with the most serious offences in order for them to act as an example to others had already been witnessed with the charge of 16 random individuals from the St Paul's area of Bristol with 'riotous assembly' following the unrest in Bristol in April 1980. The charging of individuals with such serious offences were seen by the community of St Paul’s as public punishment and an attempt to enforce coercion, especially since riot had been so rarely used in English law and only in prescribed circumstances (Joshua et al. 1983). The charging of the Bradford 12 with conspiracy — in other words, as terrorists — was another example of the state's attempt to use a trial to deter protest. The police were well aware that nothing had actually happened but by charging the defendants with conspiracy the police set the stage for a major trial, in which the circumstances that gave rise to the making of the petrol bombs by a political organisation were explored along with a debate as to whether organised and armed self-defence by a community was permissible by law.

The Arrests

The arrest and charging of the Bradford 12 sent shockwaves throughout the local community. Many of the younger members of the Bradford 12 were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. About half of the final 12 met inside prison. The difficulties for the 12 began with Tarlochan Gata Aura's surprising crumbling under interrogation after only two hours. Although the right to remain silent was enshrined in law in 1981, most of the twelve defendants caved in under pressure signing statements, many of which the police wrote for them. The statements by leading defendants however affirmed the political consciousness with which members of the UBYL had acted. Tarlochan stated that they had 'made petrol bombs in defence of our community which has been consistently under attack by the National Front and the British Movement and also Columns 88' on 30 July 1981. The following day Tariq Mehmood reiterated their act of self-defence:

In view of what had happened in Southall, London and other areas where black families had been petrol bombed and murdered, where black youth as in Deptford had been burned to death, we took the news that coach loads of skinhead thugs were coming to Bradford very seriously. Many people in Bradford, of all walks of life were openly talking that this was so. On the morning of Saturday 11th July 1981 I went into the town centre, I met many people whom I had known for a long time and almost all were talking about skinheads invading Bradford. It is my belief that when a people are attacked it is their right to act in self defence. The nature of that defence depends upon the nature of attack and attackers. ... During the course of our stay in and around the centre of town and in view of what we saw and heard; we saw small groups of skinheads, about 3 to 4 strong, and heard that more were definitely on the way;... we decided... that an organised defence of our community was necessary. (Statement by Tariq Mehmood to West Yorkshire Police, 31 July 1981).

The political nature of the arrests was recognised from the outset by both the community and the solicitors involved in the case. It was to become 'the Trial of the Decade' (Race Today 1983) and the struggle in defence of the Bradford 12 became representative of the struggle between the black communities in Britain and the state. As Ruth Bundey stated at the bail hearings, 'it is the fear of the community that they [the 12] may be on trial for what amounts to their political beliefs and their previous lawful actions in fighting racialism' (New Statesman 4 September 1981).

Criminalisation of Political Activists

The police attempted to portray the case as a criminal one. Individuals who were involved in petty criminal activity such as joyriding were arrested alongside the key defendants. The intention was to associate such activity with senior members of the UBYL in order to discredit them. The police deliberately created situations after the arrests to exacerbate conflict and picture these men as common criminals. Tariq recalls how a skinhead was picked up and thrown in his cell when he was first charged.

The skinhead was just an ordinary lad who hadn't done anything. I don't know what they charged him with ... I just said to him, they've thrown you in here so that we have a fight, I am going to do life anyway, so you can either have a fight or there is one blanket and it is cold and we can share it. (Mehmood 2006)

The police also attempted to fragment the defendants by providing a wide variety of duty solicitors in the immediate aftermath of the arrests, some of whom publicly distanced themselves from any political connections in the case. As Ruth Bundey recalls:

…at the initial stages of that case, when we were time and time again applying for bail for the defendants who were remanded in custody, I would stand up and explain on my instructions what the case was about and the politics of the case as best I could and then local Bradford solicitors would stand up immediately after me and say they wished to disassociate themselves from my remarks and this was not a case of politics but simply a case of young men misled by others who were more sophisticated etc etc... that was not a very good basis for a united defence. (Bundey 2006)

Some of the younger UBYL members, however, had begun to attend UBYL educationals and were beginning to understand the social, economic and political conditions that had created them (Internal Bulletin 12:1-2). This politicisation enabled the 12 to ultimately stand together and create one voice that could not be divided by police tactics. This was not without a struggle however, as Ruth recalls, 'When the defendants asked for a transfer of solicitors, which is their absolute right, there were threats of cutting off legal aid. Gareth and I said we would represent them for free.'

Despite the attempts by the state to construct the case as a criminal one, it was clear from the outset that the police raids and arrests were an investigation into the political activities of some of the defendants. As Shanaaz Ali, recalls:

I remember... they asked me about the United Black Youth League and I was kind of vague about it ... And then they had all these pictures of us with the Gary Pemberton campaign,... pictures of us outside the magistrates court and a few other marches... (Ali 2006)

While Shanaaz was arrested, she was not charged. The image of a 19-year-old Asian girl wearing shalwar kameez and fasting during Ramadan would not have fitted with the image of the 12 that the police wished create. It would have been hard to create the label of 'yobbos' or 'fanatics' with her in the midst of them.

African Caribbean youth that were associated with the UBYL were also arrested. They were charged with other criminal offences, but in Tariq's view 'the state deliberately did not charge them (with us) to stop unity being built between Africans and Asians'. As more and more people got involved with the campaign, Tariq recalls how the way that the defendants were treated began to change:

the regime relaxed inside. We got cigarettes and food, we were treated with some sense of dignity... when we went to prison… it was very clear that some of the guards were actually very sympathetic, they didn't really think we deserved to be inside. (Mehmood 2006)

While trying to criminalise the young men, the involvement of Special Branch in the arrest and interrogation of the Bradford 12 indicates that the state viewed the case as political. The first question to Tarlochan when interviewed after his arrest related to his membership of UBYL (Internal Bulletin 3:1). For Tariq, too, the interrogation was mostly political, 'about Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and apartheid. And I was... asked if I thought that the police were instruments of oppression' (Internal Bulletin 3:3). The investigating officers tried to project the police's understanding of the 1981 riots on to the case, arguing that the defendants were linked to the unrest in other parts of the country on the days leading up to 11 July 1981. During the trial, DI Windle admitted that the Special Branch were part of the team that visited Tariq's house, 'to determine connections between disturbances in Bradford, Liverpool, Brixton ...' (Leeds Other Paper 1982). Yet as Tariq recalls,

Everyone was aware of the riots taking place up and down the country. How could we not be aware of these. We did meet people from Liverpool a few days before July 11th. These were youth, like us, who told us what the police were doing in Toxteth. We were concerned but not connected in any way to Liverpool or other places, other than that it was in our belief that we opposed police brutality, our sympathies were with the youth and not the state. (Mehmood 2006)

The fact that the defendants were charged with conspiracy offences, was in itself an indication of the political nature of the trial. Conspiracy did not require evidence of any particular crime having been committed. Any meeting could be interpreted as a conspiracy — a point not lost on campaigners. The bail conditions for the 12 affirmed the political nature of the case since the conditions included a ban on attending any demonstrations, public meetings or political rallies. For the leading defendants, for whom political activity had been their life and their family, this was a devastating and isolating requirement. In addition, one leading defendant's bail condition included living outside of Bradford. 'Gagged' was the slogan used by the campaign in response.

The UBYL were aware from the start that members of the police force were keen to attack the organisation, because they had exposed the violence and racism of individual police officers during the Gary Pemberton Defence Campaign. They had ignored rules of sub-judice and named the officers who had attacked Gary in their leaflets. In 1981, the West Yorkshire police were also suffering from a dent to their reputation with their failure to have apprehended the Yorkshire Ripper earlier. Demands for a public inquiry were made by the public, by families and by MPs after his conviction (Guardian 28 May 1981) and criticism of the Ripper case came from as far as Atlanta (Guardian 6 June 1981). Having come under scrutiny and national criticism some senior officers may have hoped that the case of the Bradford 12 was a coup which could help them to heal their tarnished image.

The Campaign

From the beginning there was enormous support for the young men from both the community and local activists. As Dave Harrison, a journalist and anti-racist activist recalls, 'On Saturday, the court was full... the public galleries, the corridors and the steps of the magistrates court were full of people... and there was utter bewilderment as to how this could possibly happen in the name of justice'. Within days, a meeting attended by members of the AYM, Bradford Black, IWA, SWP, Fourth Idea Bookshop, Gay Liberation Front, Lesbian groups, RCG, Irish groups and concerned individuals established the July 11th Action Committee. Giving themselves this name linked the arrests and charging of the Bradford 12 with the unrest and rebellions across the UK.

The engagement and support of the local community was immediately visible with a meeting attended by 800 local people at the Arcadian cinema on 12 August 1981. As Dave Harrison recalls,

the cinema was packed, and Amin Qureshi, journalist and later councillor for Bradford delivered what I think is 'the best political speech I have heard in my life'. He ignited feelings that you can get from listening to Rafi [Indian singer], and the mood was electric, the ferver was tangible and in the middle of the speech Qureshi declared: 'If they made them, why didn't they use them' and there was an uproar of support. (Harrison 2011)

As a report of the meeting in A Report on Racist Violence in Bradford — 1981 stated, this support not only came from the youth but from all generations of the community: 'The speakers representing black groups in Bradford and most political views were unanimous and emphatic in interpreting the arrests as a direct threat to the security of their communities' (Stark 1982). A statement from the UBYL at the meeting argued:

Our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers are attacked and murdered in the streets. The police do nothing. Our homes and places of worship are burned to the ground. Nobody is arrested. Families are burned to death. The murderers and fire bombers speak openly of their organised violence against our communities. They are not charged with conspiracy. The politicians and police have failed us. Our youth are our only protection. These young men defended Anwar Ditta, Jaswinder Kaur, Gary Pemberton and many others. Now they have been taken away from us. We must not fail them. We must fight to bring them back. They have defended our community. We must now defend them. (July 11th Action Committee, SC37)

The political nature of the case was highlighted in the first slogan of the campaign 'Whose Conspiracy, Police Conspiracy: Free the Bradford 12!' Early leaflets also highlighted the racism and corruption of the West Yorkshire Police who had fabricated statements to ensure convictions in cases that were eventually quashed when an officer was caught having constructed detailed confessions.

In the early stages the committee included members of the UBYL, Bradford Black, friends and family, local activists and a variety of left organisations. While many individuals talk about the widespread support that existed for the 12, the campaign encountered substantial conflicts and problems. The conflicts were partly a result of political rivalries, a jostling for positions as well as a result of the rifts that had already emerged with the split in the Asian Youth Movement over the acceptance of state funding. The difficulty in running a campaign along the principles with which the AYM and their supporters had always worked the belief that defendants in a case should always be kept at the centre of a campaign and its decision making was another problem.

Difficulties arose because the defendants were incarcerated and contact with them was minimal so it was sometimes difficult to know what their opinion was. To begin with the only contact that campaigners had with the defendants was through their solicitors. As a result of an array of differences, a number of groups emerged in Bradford over the course of the months leading up to the trial. These included the United Black Youth Defence Committee, the July 11th Action Committee and later the Bradford 12 Defence Campaign. For a short while it appeared that the campaign would splinter. Conflicts erupted between Courtney Hayes from Bradford Black and the July 11th Action Committee because the latter believed that Courtney had acted undemocratically in taking campaign decisions without wider agreement with the committee (July 11th Action Committee 4 October 1982).

In order to maintain unity, the defendants dissolved the United Black Youth League, whose leading members were incarcerated and asked for the dissolution of the July 11th Action Committee and the building of a unified national campaign. The AYM decision not to support any UBYL campaign as an organisation was also maintained and a note was added onto AYM minutes for 31 January 1981 which states: 'The AYM will not participate in any meetings or involvement in any committees or talk at any meeting in defence of the Bradford 12.' Support for the 12, however, was widespread amongst individuals in the organisation and Marsha, despite his differences with Tariq, put up his bail costs and spoke in court in his defence. The lack of organisational support was a position never articulated by AYM members at the time or later, and dozens of leaflets in support of the Bradford 12 campaign are included in the AYM Saathi Centre files. The AYM also supported a campaign for six individuals that had been arrested at Bradford 12 court appearances (AYM Bradford 2 May 1982). However, no Bradford 12 document lists AYM (Bradford) as affiliated to the Bradford 12 Campaign.

The conflicts in Bradford and the difficulties of organising a national campaign meant that for some months activists outside of Bradford ended up coordinating a Defence Campaign with two further organisations being established — the Bradford 12 National Mobilising Committee in Leeds, initiated by Big Flame, and the South London Bradford 12 Support Group in London, run by activists in Southall but supported by individuals across London. The fact that activists in a variety of locations and involved with different organisations took the reins to keep the campaign going indicates the significance of the case nationally. It was an attack on the right of political organisation. Amrit Wilson from the London Support Group recalls, 'I felt this is us, these are my friends and I can't let it happen'. Bradford 12 Support Groups eventually emerged across the country in London, Leicester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere. These were places in which members of the AYMs and UBYL had built political links. As Suresh recalls:

I saw them as colleagues and friends and comrades and one thing I have to say about Bradford AYM, whether its Tariq or Tarlochan ... they did make the effort of making huge amounts of contacts... so the first thing I did was to phone up all these contacts.

This network of contacts was pivotal in developing a strong base for a London support group.

While activists in Brixton and Liverpool organised the Brixton Defence Committee and the Liverpool 8 Defence Campaign, the Bradford 12 campaign was the only national campaign that developed as a result of the 1981 rebellions that was successful.

There was no other defence campaign of a similar nature. A large number of people who came to the London group wanted to do something about the 1981 riots, not necessarily Bradford 12. They wanted to contribute to some kind of defence campaign because of policing issues and race issues. (Grover 2006)

The campaign therefore enabled people both within and outside of AYM networks to be mobilised. 'Until the 12 are free we are all imprisoned' was more than a slogan, it was a sentiment that was sharply felt by those involved in the campaign. As the South London Bradford 12 Support Group warned:

The repressive arm of the state may first be used against minorities but it is always ultimately used against everyone: The black community recognises its need, its right and its ability to defend itself against state and police racism as well as against violent attacks. The state has reacted with ever greater repression, and in effect the trial of the Bradford 12 represents a trial of the entire community for its growing spirit of defiance — a show trial in every sense. The implications are serious not only for black people but for the Labour Movement as a whole... It is vital for all of us to support the Bradford 12, and unite in a solid, single, wall of resistance in solidarity with a just struggle.

There were intense discussions inside the committees on what the central slogan of the campaign should be. A number of the key organisers believed it should be 'Self Defence is No Offence' right from the start. This was opposed by the lawyers on the grounds that the defence does not need to tell the prosecution what its defence strategy will be. Tariq also recalls:

What we felt was that we as defendants, those who would go down for life possibly, wanted to be the ones who decided what our defence, legal and political ought to be. In this there was no confusion about the right to self-defence, but there was for us the issue of some of our comrades, against whom the police had next to nothing, they could walk out by sticking to their guns, so to speak. This at least applied to Jayesh, who had not broken under police pressure and admitted to all sorts of ridiculous things. Whilst Jayesh clearly supported the principle of self defence, why did he have to say, I want to be a martyr, hang me as well? What was important was for us to be united, and this needed a defence where we were not blaming each other. Jayesh's defence in court did not incriminate anyone else and therefore he didn't need to say in court that 'I did what I said I didn't do because I did it for self-defence'. His case was that he did nothing other than watch cricket.

As Ruth Bundey observed,

When we got to court the prosecution were totally caught off guard. I think they thought we would challenge the legitimacy of the confessions and interviews, which indeed was done. But they did not suspect that the defence case would so clearly be based on self-defence, for this implied, organised and armed community self-defence and not individual acts of fighting on the street. (Bundey 2006)

During the ten months before the trial, the campaign groups organised pickets at every hearing and court appearance of the 12 first in Bradford and then in Leeds. Pickets were also organised at the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions in London, and public meetings at the London School of Economics. Three demonstrations were also organised in Bradford and Leeds. In order to maintaining a constant presence during the trial, the campaign organised a rota for nvass pickets at the court on a Wednesday. One week it would be the responsibility of trade unions and students to mobilise, another week IWA and AYM (Birmingham) would take the responsibility to mobilise, and another week it would be London. There was even a 'women's day of action' with a women only picket to encourage women to participate. Activists in Leeds and London produced campaign literature in collaboration with individuals in Bradford. Good contacts developed with Leeds Other Paper who later provided detailed coverage during the trial. As the campaign developed it garnered support from a formidable list of hundreds of local, national and international organisations. The commemorative booklet produced by Leeds Other Paper and the Bradford 12 campaign following their acquittal listed approximately 275 organisations and prominent individuals, these included workers organisations, black organisations, welfare organisations, trade unions, socialist organisations, communist parties, anti-deportation campaigns, temples, mosques, gurdwaras, national liberation organisations, women's groups, law centres, film cooperatives, feminist and socialist publishers, disabled groups and students organisations who in their turn raised the case of the 12 in their constituencies (Leeds Other Paper 1982:23).

While building solidarity links, community support was crucial in the success of the campaign since some organisations only offered token support. Trotskyite organisations, for example, viewed the Bradford 12 as black separatists and therefore did not prioritise support for the campaign. It was to cause conflict between SWP and some of their members. Following the Bradford 12 campaign SWP expelled two dedicated anti-racist organisers from their organisation. Geoff Robinson, for example, campaigned selflessly for the 12, who had become his comrades and friends. Rather than seeing the campaign as a struggle against state racism, SWP argued that such dedication to the campaign advocated support for black separatism, of which the party did not approve and expelled him from the organisation for being part of an 'unconscious faction' (M. Singh 2006).

The importance of solidarity in the campaign's success is reflected in a statement issued by the Free Bradford 12 National Mobilising Committee after the acquittal:

The campaign had its problems and setbacks. But we emerged victorious and hopefully the problems will teach us a lesson for the future People from all over the country came to the trial. Support groups had been set up in London, Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Leeds, Coventry and Sheffield. Support came in other forms from most major cities including Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. Support continues to come in for the 12 both nationally and internationally. Most important abroad was the support from Ireland, from IRSP, Sinn Fein and Na Fianna Eireann, but also from North America, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Jamaica and other places.

One Bradford 12 leaflet even featured a picket organised by the Black Wages for Housework Campaign outside the British Consulate in Los Angeles on the day the trial started. This picket was supported by the Feminist Women's Health Centre, the Los Angeles Women's League and the Los Angeles Wages for Housework Campaign (Leeds Other Paper 1982). The speakers at campaign meetings and rallies also reflected local, national and international support. The three key speakers from the 20 March 1982 demonstration in Bradford reflect the array of support. Anwar Ditta from Rochdale spoke emotionally in support of the 12, representing their history of challenge to state racism. Pat Wall, president for Bradford Trades Council and later MP for Bradford North, also spoke representing the support from the left and trade union movement. Finally, Amandla Kitson, the anti-apartheid activist, spoke in their defence, representing international support (see SC32).


Over 500 people protested outside the court at the start of the case on 26 April 1982. Pickets continued throughout the eight weeks of the trial. The protests outside the courts ensured prominent publicity for the case in the national media. All twelve of the defendants pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to cause explosives and endanger lives. The trial was to prove significant from a number of perspectives:

  • The existence of a mass campaign to defend the 12.
  • The challenge to the jury selection process to ensure 'a jury of your peers'.
  • The decision by Tariq Mehmood to defend himself.
  • The decision to argue the case of self-defence by a community. The decision by the young defendants to make statements read from the dock and not to be cross examined a right that was later removed from defendants.
  • The strong links between the campaign and the lawyers who defended the 12.

One of the cardinal principles of the British legal system is the trial by jury of one's peers. When an all-white jury was selected from areas of Leeds with no Asian presence, this was challenged by the defence team who argued that an all white jury would discriminate against their clients. The sustained challenge to the composition of the jury had a precedence in political black trials. In 1971 the jury selection had been challenged by counsel in the trial of the Mangrove 9. They had been charged with conspiracy to riot when they had marched to Notting Hill Police Station to protest against police brutality (Hassan 1982). The judge rejected the defence demands for the jury panel to stand down, but when a Bradford panel was selected it was found to have no Asians on it. 'The inescapable conclusion', argued by the Campaign, was that 'black people are being systematically excluded from the opportunity to serve on the jury'. The right to a representative jury and the right of black people to serve on a jury had taken on national significance in 1981 after Lord Denning, the Master of Rolls had been forced to resign following threats of libel action from African Caribbean and Asian jurors that had performed their civic duty in the case of the Bristol riots. Denning had argued in his memoirs that the jurors who acquitted the young men in Bristol charged with rioting against the police had done so because they came from countries where 'truth was not the norm' (Pierce 2011). Sigbat Kardri, representing Ahmed Mansoor argued 'if the defendants are convicted by a jury which did not even have a possibility of an Asian sitting on it, they will say that the defendants had "no chance" and that it was fixed' (Internal Bulletin 2). Tariq Mehmood representing himself asserted 'I think it would be impossible to tell a jury of what my experience and feelings are if there is not even one of my own people on it.' (Leeds Other Paper 1982:4). The jury panel was eventually expanded to include 100 jurors including two Asians. Jurors were questioned about their attitudes towards non-whites and whether any member of their family supported far right organisations. After a lengthy legal battle a jury was selected, which had Asian, African and white working people, one of the main requirements of the defendants.

The decision by Tariq Mehmood to defend himself was another significant factor in the way in which the trial resonated outside of the courtroom. This decision had been agreed by all the defendants and enabled the 12 to speak in a language that was not just rational but also passionate. It enabled the defence team to ask questions or make interventions that were not custom and practise. If he was going to go down for life, Tariq argued that at least he wanted to do it in his own words. It gave him the chance to cross examine the officers who had cross examined him and to challenge every line of their statements. The younger defendants who the lawyers felt would not be able to cope with the strain of cross examination offered statements that were read out from the dock. It is significant that this legal right to give a statement from the dock was withdrawn following the Bradford 12 case.

The case for self-defence

While legal proceedings usually restrict debates on disturbances to concerns over violent and criminal behaviour, the case of self-defence demanded and permitted the defence to present the experience of racial violence by minorities in Bradford and more widely in Britain within the court. The prosecution tried to argue that 'there was no threat to the black community from fascists' and that the defendants had made the petrol bombs to use against police and large shops and 'generally use in a riot'. They tried to argue that these were criminal acts. The judge also asserted that the proceedings were criminal proceedings.

To prove the case of self-defence, the campaign supported the defence counsel in gathering evidence. From the start the July 11th Action Committee had asserted the importance of researching into racist attacks on people and property in the Bradford area and the response of the police to such incidents (Stark 1982:1). Dave Stark, a committed anti-racist and trade union activist in Bradford, coordinated the research and writing of a report which offered a systematic investigation of racist attacks in Bradford since the late 1970s, in order to prove why the 12 and the community as a whole had a right to defend themselves.

The report documented the frequent police indifference and in some cases hostility to the victims of racial attacks. The report augmented the Home Office Report on Racial Attacks published in November 1981. The murder of the taxi driver Mohammed Sharif in Bradford in November also provoked a spontaneous reaction amongst Asian groups. The aim was to 'disprove the common sense view of "isolated" violent incidents', a conclusion which was consistent with the Home Office Report as well as the Joint Committee against Racialism's report on Racialist Violence in the UK (JCAR 1982, Home Office 1981).

The report listed the dozens of violent attacks that had taken place in Bradford and its environs focusing on 1981 in particular. It asserted that the collection of data could not simply rely on police and official statistics since many racist attacks went unreported. It was therefore important to consider general impressions:

It is apparent from other enquiries of this kind that the general impression is one of an increase in racist violence over the past 18 months or so. Official concern locally is reflected in the evidence which the West Yorkshire Labour Group submitted to Scarman. ... The extent or rate of increase is difficult to assess due to the lack of consistent monitoring over a period of years. (Stark 1982:4)

Through this process the report challenged the concept of 'good race relations' which Barry Thomas had referred to at a reception for the Race Relations Consultative Group and focused specifically on racist violence as opposed to other forms of discrimination in housing, education or leisure activities.

The police repeatedly argued that race relations were good in Bradford. Chief Inspector Ellis argued that he was proud of these 'good race relations'. Chief Inspector Sidebottom claimed to know nothing about the Home Office study that had been published in November 1981 about racist attacks and the fact that Bradford had been part of the study (Internal Bulletin 4:3). He declared he had no knowledge of most of the racist attacks that were mentioned to him, did not know of the local fascist paper New Order nor did he believe that the burning of the Hambrough Tavern in Southall had anything to do with fascists, nor did he keep a record of racist incidents.

Every opportunity was taken to prove that their lack of knowledge was in fact a lie. Even the police review from 6 February 1981 had included an article on 'White Power and the Nazis' (Internal Bulletin 7:7). In questioning DI Holland, the inspector in charge of the investigation, Barrister Kadri reminded him of the time he had spoken to Pakistani community leaders in Halifax in 1975 declaring that there was no such thing as racial violence (Internal Bulletin 7:8). At one point Kadri declared that he was 'charging the police with criminal negligence' for being unaware of the fascist threat that was faced by the Asian Community in Bradford (Internal Bulletin 3:2).

In challenging the prosecution case the defence set about to prove that the police were not just negligent but racist, which left the community with no choice but to defend itself. The report on racist attacks in Bradford gave a damning image of police racism as not simply existing in the West Yorkshire police force, but as something that appeared to be positively encouraged. It quoted a statement used by counsel in court from DI Holland, Deputy Head of the Criminal Investigation Department in Bradford, who had overall charge of the criminal investigation of the Bradford 12 to highlight the extent of the force's racism:

Police officers must be prejudiced and discriminatory to do their job. Prejudice is a state of mind drawn from experience. Searching long haired youths in bedraggled clothing produces drug seizures, and searching West Indian youth wearing tea cosy hats and loitering in city centres could detect mugging offences.… Subordinate officers are expected to act in a discriminatory way; that is against those people who by their conduct, mode of life, dress, associates, transport, are most likely to be criminals. (in Telegraph & Argus 13 September 1981).

DS Huntingdon's suggestion in court, that Enoch Powell was not a racist and that to him left-wing meant 'anyone against the police and the general running of the country', while right wing was 'anyone who conducts himself within the general running of the country', confirmed the extent of prejudice in police attitudes (Internal Bulletin 5.1).

The defence challenged all aspects of the prosecution case to highlight police corruption and the process of attempted criminalisation of activists. Many of the police statements had been made on 18 August, weeks after the initial arrests and the defence counsel argued that these were therefore not only inaccurate but that the officers had pooled information and fabricated the events (Internal Bulletins 2 & 4). At one point even the judge commented on the fact that two of the officers, Sidebottom and DS Huntingdon, were sharing notebooks (Internal Bulletin 5:1).

Two of the three statements signed by Tarlochan Gata Aura, for example, were not written by him, and Patrick O'Connor argued that Masood Malik's statement must have been fabricated because phrases such as 'Further to my previous statement' and 'I would like to clarify the point which I did not mention before' were not the words of an 18-year-old Yorkshire lad. Helena Kennedy and Paddy O'Connor both highlighted the violence that their clients Saeed Hussain and Ahmed Nlasoor had experienced because they had not given the police what they wanted (Internal Bulletin 6: 1, Wilson 1982:10). There was evidence on Pravin Patel's detention sheet that 31 July had been changed to 1 August, and that, while Police Constable Windle's notes suggested that Parvin Patel had been asked 69 questions and given 69 answers, all notes on the interview were written from memory afterwards.

Tarlochan Gata Aura, Saber Hussein, Masood Malik, Ahmed Mansoor and Giovanni Singh all maintained that their statements were constructed by the police through various forms of intimidation (Internal Bulletins 9-12). Tariq Mehmood argued that evidence from police notebooks was untrue because he would never say phrases such as; 'Coloured people who are less intelligent than police officers are intimidated...' (Internal Bulletin 7:3). A number of the lawyers also raised the fact that none of the defendants had been allowed a solicitor for 14 hours, despite the fact that they had asked and this had been to intimidate defendants and to question the younger defendants about Tariq and Tarlochan and their political activity (Internal Bulletins 5:3 & 7:1).

The political rather than criminal nature of the case was also asserted in court. E. Alexander and Sigbat Kadri both argued that Special Branch had controlled the case from the beginning. They had been responsible for searching Tariq and Tarlochan's house and interrogating them when arrested. The defence then used the history of political activity that Tariq and Tarlochan had been involved with from the 1976 fascist march in Manningham onwards to prove that both were not criminals out to smash or loot shops or the police station indiscriminately but that they had wanted to do what they said they did — to defend their community as they had been doing for the last five years through anti-fascist marches, the George Lindo case, the Anwar Ditta case, deportations cases and the Gary Pemberton campaign (Internal Bulletin 7:6).

Dozens of witnesses were called to support the case of community self-defence. Reverend Kenneth Leech, Race Relations Officer for the Church of England acted as a character witness for Tarlochan. Members of the Fourth Idea Bookshop including Reuben Goldberg as well as Jan Fielding from Dalys bookshop were called to confirm the knowledge of the rumours that fascists were coming to Bradford. Reuben Goldberg also catalogued the attacks that the Fourth Idea Bookshop had suffered and that the attacks had continued unabated in 1981. Anwar Ditta spoke to highlight Tarlochan Gata Aura's involvement in her campaign. She also highlighted the fact that herself and Tarlochan had received abusive letters from fascists after coming into the public eye when she won her case. She spoke of the threats of violence which she faced: 'At night ... we have to keep buckets under the front door in case petrol is poured through the door and set on fire..' (Internal Bulletin 9:6). Councillor Mohammed Ajeeb, chairperson of Bradford CRC recounted the report of racial violence in Bradford that he had given to the Home Office team in 1981 noting how there had been 'a marked increase in the number of racial attacks' and that there was 'a lack of confidence in the police force' (Internal Bulletin 10:2). Piara Singh Khabra of IWA, Southall and the Joint Committee Against Racism spoke of the impact of the events in Southall on the Asian community in Britain as a whole and the fact that the fascists had aimed to attack ordinary people (Internal Bulletin 10:5). Trevor Phillips, who was working for London Weekend Television also testified to the lack of police support in Southall when the community was attacked.

The statements from younger members of the 12 including Masood Malik, Ahmed Mansoor, Vasant Patel and Pravin Patel corroborated the fear of attacks and the way events in Walthamstow, Deptford and Southall affected the decision to make petrol bombs (Internal Bulletin 10:4). Zikrullah Khan, editor of the Daily Jang, also spoke to highlight the catalogue of racist attacks that had been reported in the paper over the past year to prove that all those in the community would have had knowledge of such events. A member of the Walthamstow Fire Brigade was called to highlight that 13 arson attacks had taken place on Asian homes in the last two and a half years. Jim Thakoordan from Luton Community Defence Committee spoke of skinhead attacks in Luton and victims of racist attacks in Bradford were also called to testify to the violence they had suffered and the police inaction in their case (Internal Bulletin 10:6).

The impact of events nationally was brought home in Saeed Hussain's statement when he described how the Walthamstow firebombing 'affected my mother so much that she got my brother to seal up the letter box' (Wilson 1982:10). Finally Marsha Singh from the Asian Youth Movement testified that AYM were also patrolling the streets on 11 July: 'We, the AYM, patrolled areas in Bradford on observation for skinhead invasion. ... Our members were in a state of preparedness... We would alert the members of the community — we have quite rapid communication.' Marsha affirmed that AYM too did not tell the police because 'the police have consistently harassed us.' And, like members of the UBYL, he affirmed 'I regard the police as an anti-black institution and in certain circumstances as an instrument of oppression' (Internal Bulletin 12:4). The case gave a national platform to both the experiences and political ideas of the youth.

The power of the self-defence case was made not simply in the courtroom but outside. On the first day of the defence case the mass picket called by the campaign included Jaswinder Kaur, Nasira Begum, Nasreen Akhtar, Cynthia Gordon, Najat Chafee, Pow Shein Leong and Pow Yean Leong — all individuals facing deportation whom the defendants had supported over the previous years. The mass support proved what the defendants said was true they were defenders of their community. 'You could here the chants of "Free free free the 12", "Whose conspiracy, police conspiracy" and "self defence is no offence" in the courtroom on mass picket days' (Mehmood 2006).

The political nature of the trial was reasserted in the prosecution's appeal to the jury at the end of the trial. 'What sort of society are we going to live in if one side and then the other, feels justified in using such devices?' (Internal Bulletin 12). Helena Kennedy's reply was that 'if the trial wasn't political already such a question had made it so'. Each of the defence barristers in turn interrogated this idea of the society that we wish to live in, Paddy O'Connor asked: 'What kind of society is it which allows racist attacks, which tolerates and fosters that kind of hatred?' In his own defence, Tariq Mehmood Ali pleaded:

Everything you have heard so far about the charges against us is about a human reaction our action in defence of our people was a natural reaction. I am not begging for mercy. I don't ask for forgiveness. I am asking for understanding... You are my protection because you are ordinary people. The threat of fascist terror affects every one of you and not just black people. … The prosecution suggest that the UBYL broke from the AYM because we wanted violence. That is rubbish. It was to avoid the corruption that arises from state funds. We are not a violent organisation. Anwar Ditta was subjected to violence and in response we initiated a prolonged mass campaign -- not violent — and it was the same with Gary Pemberton. ... The whole case against me amounts to nothing but a political prosecution. It is aimed at my political views. I am not a terrorist but a victim of terror. (Internal Bulletin 12, 4 June 1982)

Acquittal - and Aftermath

The acquittal of the 12 on all counts was to prove the right of a community to defend itself. As Gareth Peirce wrote in the Guardian: 'By its verdict, the jury accepted the proposition that a society should afford protection to all its citizens and that if it did not, as the evidence they heard showed clearly that it does not, then those unprotected can arm themselves.' (Peirce 1982). The sympathy with which the jury viewed the 12 is evidenced through their delight in celebrating victory with the lawyers and defendants after the acquittal. One juror even brought a rose, which she placed in a milk bottle to adorn the table around which they sat. It inspired the cover of The Leveller that month which declared 'Self Defence is no offence' and sported a graphic of a milk bottle with both a rose and red flames.

The campaign marked a high point in independent self-organisation amongst South Asian youth in Britain. It served as a symbol of victory and enshrined in law the right to self-defence. It was a campaign that was to influence others in its politics and slogans as can be seen through the repeated use of slogans and visual iconography from Bradford 12 campaign posters. In reflecting on the impact of the trial and campaign at a thirtieth anniversary commemoration of the Bradford 12, Gareth Peirce stated, 'The Bradford 12 were acquitted after telling the whole truth, it may be that they held the line on racist attacks... maybe they held the line on the NF growing and growing and becoming a monster. ... but whenever there is a victory it doesn't result in living happily ever after, it results in the state moving the goal posts yet again and so it's imperative to be as brave and as watchful and as intelligent and as imaginative as the twelve defendants were in their days in Bradford'. The goal posts were moving before the trial was even over.

The acquittal of the 12 was a powerful symbol of resistance to police and state oppression. At the same time the level of police harassment and victimisation appeared to continue, as the Newham 8 and Newham 7 trials are testament. While the state did not gain a victory in the Bradford 12 case, they smashed in its infancy a militant black organisation that had leaders with incredible energy who believed passionately in the unity of all black people, African and Asian.

The use of the conspiracy laws was a significant part in the state's strategy. The state's determination to crush independent and militant organisation led to the re-use of the conspiracy laws against the Newham 8, sometime after their first charges had been issued. The increase in repressive policing tactics was evident within weeks of the rebellions in July 1981: police were issued with extensive protective equipment, (including new types of riot shields, helmets, and armoured vehicles) as well as with CS gas, plastic bullets and increased capacity for water cannon.

All these measures were endorsed by Lord Scarman who not only accepted the need for a whole array of offensive riot technology but also condoned the expansion of special patrol groups that had been used so extensively in Operation Swamp 81. These powers were further endorsed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which enshrined in law the power to arrest and detain suspects without charge in 1984 ( SC47). The act also removed the right to silence in the UK and the right to give a statement from the dock without being cross examined was also removed shortly after.

In 1981, it was clear that the discontent amongst black communities could not simply be addressed by coercion. There was a need to manufacture consent. The acquittal of the 12 further confirmed the urgency for change. Lord Scarman's report was to advocate the development of consensus politics through the establishment of a whole array of community participation projects and systems which were eventually to buy many activists off the streets.



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Submitted by eattherich on May 19, 2019

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